The Indian Army is fast-tracking the development and induction of the indigenously designed Excalibur 5.56 x 45 mm assault rifle as it looks to plug a major operational void.
Senior army officials told IHS Jane's that 200 prototype Excalibur rifles, fabricated at the Ordnance Factory Board's (OFB's) Rifle Factory Ishapur (RFI) in eastern India, would undergo user evaluation trials later in 2015.
Once approved, the army plans to induct over 600,000 Excalibur for around INR36 billion (USD541 million), or around INR60,000 each.
The army opted for the Excalibur after scrapping its 2011 tender for 66,000 multicalibre assault rifles in June, as none of the four foreign models tested met its qualitative requirements.
The Excalibur is a retrofitted version of the Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) assault rifle, designed by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and rejected by the army in 2010 for being "operationally inadequate".
The gas-operated, fully automatic rifle has a foldable butt, Picatinny rail for sights, sensors, and bipods, and its polycarbonate magazine is superior to that of the INSAS rifle, which was known to frequently crack in extreme hot and cold climates.
The Excalibur's barrel is 4 mm shorter than that of the INSAS and its hand guard is smaller.
Indian Army Chief of Staff General Dalbir Singh is strongly backing Excalibur as it is a 'Make in India' programme and so fits in with the government's preference for locally manufactured equipment. He has posted infantry officers at RFI to conduct test firings and offer advice on design improvement, sources said.
On 1 September Gen Singh, accompanied by Lieutenant General Sanjay Kulkarni, Director General Infantry (DGI), visited the RFI and personally conducted the 'water' and 'mud' tests on the rifle, which it reportedly cleared. Both officers also proposed ergonomic alterations to the rifle to render it more user-friendly.
The OFB aims to begin series producing Excalibur on modified INSAS production lines at RFI in 2016 .
Meanwhile, the army has still to decide the outcome of the 2010 tender for 44,618 close quarter battle (CQB) carbines, trials for which concluded in 2013. These featured Beretta's ARX 160, IWI's Galil ACE carbine, and Colt's M4.
The Indian Army has been without a carbine since 2010 when it removed the licence-built Stirling 1A1 9 mm sub-machine gun from service.
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